Can the COVID vaccine give you herpes?

Gloved hand preparing a COVID-19 vaccine; can the covid vaccine herpes
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  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: July 20, 2021

A recent paper published in Oxford Academic publication Rheumatology is generating concern over the possibility that the COVID-19 vaccine can cause herpes. The paper linked six female patients who developed “herpes zoster infections” after the vaccine, and according to Forbes, it inflamed concerns of a connection between the two. 

However, none of the approved COVID-19 vaccines are likely to give you herpes. The paper causing this new conspiracy theory to rise was published after scientists in Israel noted six female patients who developed herpes zoster infections, aka shingles, within 3-14 days after receiving a dose of the Pfizer vaccine. 

Herpes tends to be broadly stigmatized, particularly by those who paint this viral family with a broad brush. The herpes virus comes in many different forms, from exceedingly common cold sores and genital herpes to chicken pox and the aforementioned shingles. 

None of the cases referenced in the paper are HSV-1 or HSV-2, the types of herpes that cause cold sores or genital sores.

The study involved 491 patients, according to Refinery 29, and only six of that number developed herpes zoster infections. That means approximately 1.2% of the people studied developed herpes.

As noted by the study’s lead author, Dr. Victoria Furer, the number is too small to definitively link instances of herpes back to the vaccine. The study also noted that each person who developed herpes zoster infections had a history of autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases. None of them had been vaccinated for “varicella (chicken pox) or herpes zoster,” according to Forbes.

Several experts noted that, while the research deserves to be examined, announcing that the COVID-19 vaccine causes herpes is bound to lead to panic. “This is a signal that deserves attention. There is biological plausibility and it needs to be studied more,” Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Refinery 29. “But what I object to is the headline. People don’t know that it’s herpes zoster. Chickenpox is a herpes virus. It’s a viral family.”

While no definitive answer has been found for why the patients developed shingles, some experts believe the answer is a simple one. Shingles, along with most illnesses in the herpes viral family, is often caused by stress. The pandemic has been a stressful time for us all, indicating that it may be the primary culprit behind the noted cases.

As pointed out by the authors of the study, it was “not structured to determine a causal relationship between [COVID-19] vaccination and HZ [herpes zoster].”

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Sources: Oxford Academic, Refinery 29, Forbes

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